Refugee crisis: Merkel’s double game

The media has shown refugees being welcomed to Germany, and Cameron’s response has been so inadequate he’s made even Angela Merkel look good. But, as Mark Bergfeld writes from Germany, the government there has its own motivations – and the welcome of the last few days may quickly sour.

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The media here is full of photos, videos and articles about German people celebrating the arrival of Syrian refugees in Munich, Frankfurt and Dortmund. It’s been inspiring to see people showing empathy and solidarity with Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing their war-torn countries. But that’s not the whole story. The homes of refugees and asylum seekers continue to face almost daily arson attacks. On Sunday, five people were injured after a fire at refugee accommodation in Rottenburg, in south west Germany. Buildings meant to be be used as refugee shelters in Ebeleben, formerly in East Germany, were set alight the same day.

The news magazine Spiegel stated in a report last week that “Officials are concerned that neo-Nazi networks may be spreading across the country.” As the Guardian reported on Sunday, Nazis gathered at Dortmund station to “greet” a train full of refugees at the weekend. I have myself seen swastikas painted around the train station in the town of Horrem, near Cologne, where you wouldn’t usually spot anything of the kind.

There will also be real problems sustaining the welcoming spirit as the months go by. So far the resources to welcome refugees have been provided by ordinary people. Merkel announced today that €6 billion/£4.4 billion will be made available to provide homes and jobs – but with Germany taking in 800,000 refugees, that’s only €7,500/£5,500 per person, nowhere near enough to provide housing and other services for so many people.

Merkel’s “Welcome to Germany” line is far better than that of Britain, France and other countries. It provides an opening for the whole left to build a sustained pro-refugee movement. But below the surface, Merkel’s response is pure opportunism. At present, Germany has a labour shortage of 280,000 people. It is estimated that this will rise to 1 million by 2020. Germany’s rulers see an opportunity in the refugee crisis. Yet no one talks about this.

This is a problem for the left. If the government fails to provide the necessary resources, people who depend on the welfare state – waiting in lines at the job centre or family bureau – will feel the squeeze in the next few weeks as services are over-stretched. Then the situation can become explosive.

That’s why the left needs to build campaigns and raise the following arguments:

  • Merkel’s government should lift restrictions on cities’ borrowing so that they can (re-)build homes for refugees and support families and individuals appropriately and with dignity.
  • Germany continues to benefit from the Dublin II accords, which in effect create a squeeze on Greece and Italy and use the Eastern states of the EU as Germany’s outer borders.
  • Germany’s role in the Balkans war in 1999, the Afghanistan war in 2001 and continued membership of NATO is part of the cause for the refugee crisis.
  • The reason why people want to come to Germany is not to exploit its welfare system, but because job opportunities, wage levels and chances for a peaceful and stable life are far better than elsewhere in Europe.
  • All refugees are welcome, whether they are from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Macedonia or an African state.

Germany’s government is playing a double game, which can turn the current warm welcome for refugees sour very quickly. German socialists will need to fight to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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